Director of Strategic Response
Freedom From Religion Foundation
As the pool-boy cuckolding scandal swells daily around Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife, Becki, he has officially resigned as president of the world’s largest Christian school, Liberty University. Despite what seem to be clear abuses of power and ethical lapses magnitudes of order more problematic than any of the draconian rules for student conduct that have led to countless expulsions, Jerry Jr. is taking $10 million with him when he leaves. Falwell was already on administrative leave for posting a photo of himself with his arm around his wife’s pregnant assistant, each with midriff bared and pants unzippered, with a caption that seems to indicate he’s drinking alcohol (disclaiming it as “black water”).Megalomania paired with a Christian persecution complex is a toxic mix. Here, it yielded a man who thinks being ousted from a lucrative position with a golden parachute is equivalent to ending centuries of brutal racial oppression. Hard as that is to believe, Falwell quoted the final words of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech to explain his resignation: “free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last! That’s the way, I feel.” If there were justice — or a just god — he would have been defenestrated without a cent.
How did Falwell fall? Here’s what happened, according to Giancarlo Granda. Jerry and Becki Falwell met Granda in Miami in 2012, where Grand was a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel. The Falwells went into business with this new acquaintance almost immediately, buying a hostel in Miami. From the month they met until 2018, Giancarlo and Becki regularly had sex while “Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda said in an interview. Granda, who was 20 or 21 when they met, said the liaisons happened “multiple times per year” at hotels in Miami and New York, and even at the Falwells’ home in Virginia.
I don’t care what one, two, three or 20 adults do in the privacy of their own sexual lives, so long as everyone involved can and does consent. Similarly, the photo he posted, alcohol or no, would matter little were it not for the moral high ground he and his school claims. The scandal should not be the sex, but the hypocrisy and abuse of power.
Predictably, it seems like the sex quotient, not the hypocrisy, is going to be the issue for evangelicals. At least, that’s what Falwell says caused him to resign:
“That’s the only reason I resigned: because I don’t want something my wife did to harm the school I’ve spent my whole life building . . . I never broke a single rule that applies to staff members at Liberty, which I was.”
In case it wasn’t clear, he just blamed all of this on his wife, Becki. He called it “Becki’s mistake.” While blaming his wife, Falwell has denied any participation. But the phone call between the Falwells and Granda that Reuters published on Aug. 24 tells a different story; it seems clear that Falwell was intimately involved. Becki complains about Granda telling her about his other sexual relationship: “He’s like telling me every time he hooks up with people. Like I don’t have feelings or something.” Jerry tells Granda, “You’re going to make her jealous.” No doubt he’ll try to explain that away and perhaps the credulous will buy it. I won’t.
Falwell may as well have preached from Proverbs 23: “for an adulterous woman is a deep pit, and a wayward wife is a narrow well. Like a bandit she lies in wait and multiplies the unfaithful among men.” That’s the message he wanted to send — it’s not his fault, he’s a victim, too.
Blaming women for everything is Christianity’s original sin. It’s the original playbook. Eve is blamed for all the suffering and death in the world (for daring to want knowledge no less). The bible blames women for being raped, a trend that continues to this day as people wonder: “What was she wearing?” Women are condemned for waiting to come forward when they’re assaulted — it’s their fault. When biblical couples can’t conceive, it’s because the woman is barren. In her book Woe to the Women, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor explains this omnipresent phenomenon well: “The bible is anti-woman, blaming women for sin, demanding subservience, mandating a slave/master relationship to men, and demonstrating contempt and lack of compassion: ‘I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ Genesis 3:16. What self-respecting woman today would submit willingly to such tyranny?”
Tyranny is right.
Prophecy isn’t real and nobody can predict the future, but I think we can be sure that this is only the beginning of the story. Already other allegations have been leveled against Falwell, including that he sent the pool boy “an image of a female Liberty University student exposing herself at their farm.” Sharing pornographic photos of students at a university one runs would be a gross abuse of position and power, if true. There were or are financial improprieties that seem to have stemmed from the relationship. Of course, there’s the obvious ethical concerns and the staggering hypocrisy. The point is, this seems to be the beginning of something unraveling, not the end. We’ll hear more. And then more.
I also assume we’d eventually see a redemption story. Falwell will take his $10 million severance and lay low for a few years only to rejoin the evangelical Christian ranks as powerful as ever with a story of true redemption. (“Oh, I was never a true believer, only a fallen sinner, but in the depths I truly discovered God’s grace” or something.) Chrissy Stroop has argued, convincingly, that this may not be the case, that the nature of Falwell’s sexual peccadilloes makes a redemption impossible. I certainly hope so.
Until then, set your watches. It’s just a matter of time before another prominent religious hypocrite is outed for engaging in the very behavior they so vehemently condemn.